Discover more from BIPOC Foodways with Mecca Bos
The Story Behind the Story
What is BIPOC Foodways Alliance and Why Do We Need it Now?
“You can never depend on the mass media to reflect us or our needs or our states of mind. . . with enough gestures we can deafen the satellites and lift the curtains surrounding the control room.”
-David Wojnarowicz, artist and activist
People always think that writing is hard.
And they’re correct about that. But after 25 years as a journalist, I’ll let you in on a little secret: The hardest part about writing is not the writing. It’s convincing gatekeepers that your story is a worthy one.
But the stories I want to tell are not my stories at all. Not really. These stories belong to the subjects—the people who are the holders of the knowledge that I want to know about. That you want to know about.
And in order for us to receive that knowledge, we first need to believe that the person imparting that knowledge to us is worthy—something mainstream media can often be really bad at.
Who do we believe? Traditionally, mainstream food media believed other white people (white people being the overwhelming percentage of those employed in media). Which is how we got to debacles like this one or this one.
Rather than going to the source—the knowledge keeper—mainstream media traditionally liked their news filtered through a white voice, a phenomenon that was widely referred to as “elevated.”
“Elevated Mexican,” or “Elevated Asian,” were phrases that food writers across the country were firing off like a kid with a Supersoaker– this food writer included. It was shorthand for a white guy with a French culinary background taking hold of another culture’s cooking.
In a post-George Floyd America, food media sites have doubled down on cleaning up their whitewashing, and the problem is less prominently displayed. And yet, turnabouts do not happen this quickly, and reverberations of the status quo are likely to tremor for a long time.
But even now that we expect our Chinese chefs to be Chinese, and we want our pho advice to come from the Vietnamese point of view, food media still has an inherently extractive quality. Chefs and restaurants are still the order of the day, with the big takeaway being, “What can I take away from this?” Often, literally: Can I take some of this food with me in a compostable box? Can I get a reservation? Can I get the recipe?
We all love food. And as food lovers, we want the new, the different, the novel, the interesting. But what do we really know about people who make that food? And what do we know about their stories—the why behind the food they make? What is in their hearts to compel them to make the food that we most covet?
As a person who loves restaurants as much as the next guy, a secret that I’ve learned after 25 years in this business: restaurants are not usually where you want to go for true food knowledge.
Most restaurants are inherently extractive at their core. How much of a given culture, cuisine, or tradition is sellable to the general public? The rest must, by design, get left behind. But what gets lost when we take what we want and leave the rest in the name of a plate of food that appeals to us?
Food is an important cultural asset. It can sometimes be the one thing that allows a family or an individual to survive. True food knowledge runs many generations deep. It cannot begin or end on a menu or in a stylish room with a sign on the front door. But too often, we seek “authenticity” of our restaurants, even when authenticity more often than not cannot be found inside of the swinging doors of a cafe or bistro. American restaurants are places where food culture usually has to devolve into a common denominator—something that can be sold to the many—usually meaning a Westernized, white gaze.
The stories I want to tell about food, and the people who make it, would more likely than not be passed up by a mainstream media outlet. They would consider these stories to be too small, too quiet, too personal. Not enough for the general public to extract.
It is my deeply held belief that true culinary wisdom is likely not only found in the hands of a chef, but instead his mother, grandmother, auntie, or all of the other women, people of color, immigrant communities, and elders who taught the chef. More often than not, these people don’t have restaurants. But they certainly do have a story to tell—about themselves, their communities, bloodlines, histories, traumas, joys, traditions, and so, so far beyond.
Food is an emissary for it all, and I want these stories to be preserved, uplifted, and shared.
In this newly launching newsletter, you will get not only the full stories of our BIPOC Foodways Alliance Tables, including links to videos and photography, but this will also be a general place for me to tell stories of all kinds—about food, and food people, and about other things, too.
Bonus content will include:
Food and travel recommendations
Local eating and restaurant recommendations
Excerpts from an upcoming BIPOC Foodways Alliance book manuscript
Tips and tricks from our kitchen
The occasional recipe
Sean's record recs and playlists
If you have spent any time following my work over the years (now turning into decades!) this is a place for you! In many ways, BIPOC Foodways Alliance is a culmination of all that I have hoped to accomplish with writing about food, and this newsletter will be a place to hold the stories that editors and gatekeepers might otherwise stifle.
Your first installment will include the full story of our Table co-hosted by Kealoha and Kalaiunuola Domingo, and how this couple is persevering Native Hawaiian culture through their language and cooking.
You will also receive our O’ahu eating and restaurant recs.
The goal of BIPOC Foodways Alliance is to dismantle white supremacy through the lens of food—we do this by taking control of our own stories, while simultaneously reducing cultural barriers between all BIPOC people and allies.
Will you consider joining us? Sign up for my newsletter today!
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